Not for the first time I find myself falling behind with the output of the British label Whitelabrecs. Of the Eighteen (!) releases from this 2019, so far I have covered two – Anthéne “Weightless” and the Various Artists compilation “Sleeplaboratory1.0” which date back to the start of the year. With their first release for 2020, “Sleeplaboratory2.0” just coming out, it’s time to redeem myself and cast an eye over a selection of some of the releases from one of the busiest labels of recent times.
With “Grønland” and it’s follow up “Svallbarð” The mysterious, but established Glåsbird (a known artist cloaked in anonymity) created a bit of a rush with both albums selling out very fast.
“Glåsbird imagined that they were assigned the task of scoring the soundtrack to a film about Greenland and spent a great deal of time researching the subject. Hours of documentaries, drone helicopter footage, NASA and satellite images, Instagram traveller accounts, 360° photos, web articles and maps were surveyed, to the point where this artist felt sufficiently immersed in this sub-zero but beautiful land. One such traveller/photographer who has physically witnessed the splendour of Greenland is Lennart Pagel, who kindly provided the cover image; the shot not only captures the essence of this country with its iced mountains, freezing lake and primary-coloured cabin but also there is a bold starkness which lends itself to this soundtrack.”
The pieces on the album have a home spun charm mixed in with grand adventures. There is a mix of Ambience that feels likes it flickering and slightly submerged while drones flicker and weave their way, through and around. Nostalgic at times, at others dream like, the music is structurally dense without feeling overloaded which leads to discovery of the minimal subtleties laced throughout. A piece like “Kaltsvið” sounds as if you are looking back into the mists of time while the memory is deteriorating in real time.
For the second album by Glåsbird for the year the artist comes up with a different concept and album feels suitably more moodier with an emphasis of strings being clearly felt. In a way stillness is reflected in the music as it doesn’t have great peaks or troughs, rather it nicely layers drones that glide over each other and nicely replicate what you imagine the terrain to be. A track like “Langstår” is a highlight on another strong album with its shimmering watery keys, mournful full and long drones. Both albums have a consistency which is becoming a rarish quality these days and while the pieces all don’t sound the same they share a vision which is breathtaking.
“Svalbard lies 78 degrees north, is inside the Arctic Circle and had a population of around 2600 people and an estimated 3000 polar bears! Its calendar year divides between the midnight sun and the polar nights. The former is a period of constant daylight and the latter is the opposite. However, the dark season is broken from time to time by spectacular Northern Lights.
In Svalbarð, Glåsbird became immersed once more in this next excursion, through means of Google Earth, 360° photos, blogger accounts of the isles, maps and also, videos by Efterklang who were an obvious reference point with the band having visited.
This time, we are treated to a greater number of tracks, as ten movements weave Modern Classical influenced Ambient soundscapes. The pristine, polished reverb of Grønland is replaced with a slightly muddier, more lo-fi approach to the sound as the artist strived to present a tape-eroded aesthetic to their work. The recordings deal with dramatic landscapes, glaciers, an abandoned coal community, a seed vault, the Island’s capital city Longyearbyen and of course, polar bears. Each piece feels icy cold, yet the warmth and hiss provided by the decaying tape effects provide a comfort blanket for the listener as perhaps you take in these scenes from a lonely cabin, at one with isolation and natural beauty.”
Both “Grønland” and “Svalbarð” are long since sold out but remain available digitally and are recommended.
“Jens Pauly is a musician and artist from Cologne, Germany, who has previously released an album named r/f on Karlrecords. In his earlier years, Jens performed in punk and metal bands before he eventually began to compose more synth-based solo work as Ghostrider which he released with labels such as Digitalis and Tranquility Tapes.
Since debuting under his own name with r/f in 2017, Jens has developed an electro-acoustic sound which is both sparse and engulfing yet at the same time warm and melancholic. When we first heard Jens’ demo, we were reminded of the beautiful Ambient sounds that 12k might put out, such as work by Marcus Fischer, Solo Andata and Taylor Deupree. However, Jens has since shared with us that some of the artists that influenced this work are Oren Ambarchi, early Hiroshi Yoshimura and Vikki Jackman.
There is a sound palette that at first listen is stripped back but on closer inspection, Vihne is something steeped in detail. The music flows and feels weightless, as passages of guitars, piano, sine wave and cassette dictaphone recordings softly collide into a dreamy collage. If r/f was ‘5 straight lines in a circle’, Vihne is ‘8 circles on a line’ and although these tracks are parts of the wider picture of this album, it is intended to transfer an overall atmosphere as one whole journey. “
“Vihne” is the second album by Jens Pauly following from 2017’s “r/f” on Karl Records. It’s an abstract album of guitar ambience that has a distant and echoic quality along with a scratchy feel. It’s the type of music that tends to stay away from obvious cues instead it opens up the interpretation dependent on the listener. The one word track titles may give hints like “Staub” (aka “Dust”), but that’s where Pauly stops leading you and encourages you on your own discovery. The pieces remind you of some of the work released on 12k over the years with the balance of tones, muted ambience, variance of textures standing out. If music that sounds like it’s barely there at times, has a fragile quality and is alluring, then “Vihne” will suit you to a tee. Like the Glåsbird releases the physical has sold out, but the digital is still available.
“Slow Heart Music focuses on Ben’s acoustic guitar playing whilst work under his own name is typically more Experimental and drone based. In ‘Any Given Moment’ we have an album that shows glimpses of plaintive guitar combined with Ambient drones to represent fleeting moments, memories and nostalgia. The combination is both restful and tinged with warmth, perfect for the Spring and the Summer months ahead.
The music on this album focuses on experimenting with the guitar as a sound source, both for processed and treated instrumental compositions and free improvisations. Ben wanted to take some of the more Folk inspired guitar instrumentals he has created as Slow Heart Music and incorporate them into more ambient soundscapes. He also had in mind a lighter, more uplifting sound after the darker, more melancholy themes of Black Heart Music which was released on Eilean Recs.”
The initial thing thought that comes to your mind is that the release will be an acoustic folky sort of ambience which is how “Always Beginning” starts before after a period of relative stationery ambience morphs into a layered tapestry of sound. Rath creates a bed of humming ambience which he then overlays with guitar licks that sound like they are dubbed from an old TDK cassette. The guitar which feels like it would be the dominant instrument doesn’t really return in the same style or feeling after the second track “And This One Too” where it starts flickering from deep before entering a cavernous cloud of ambience.
The two tracks that form the latter part of the release “And This One Too” and “Wait For It” use the guitar deep within to create the ambience and find the instrument used more as a textural feature than how it existed in the first half. The sound scape is quite thick and impenetrable with a distant, ever moving quality that sounds somewhat like a squall. The music is heavily processed which takes the components and removes them largely from their traditional feel or sound and re-frames it in a way that separates it from the instrument.
“Any Given Moment” is available on CDR and Digital and suits those into more hazier / dreamier forms of ambience.
“ODD is the first album Sven has created in his new studio, after moving into a new place following the birth of his daughter. Whilst working on the album, he always had in mind that there are calm parts in life followed by faster parts. He depicts the peaks and troughs of our existence through soft swathes of orchestral ambience interspersed by moments of rhythmic strings and electronic pulses .Sven draws inspiration from the film soundtrack greats and constantly strives to build a bridge between classical music and Ambient; in ODD he created an entirely digital album but worked hard to program the right timbres to achieve a realistic orchestral sound.
There is a settled feeling to ODD thanks to long passages of repetitive strings and this forms the backdrop of the album as a broadly melancholic listen, laced with emotion from Sven’s own experiences. These are intended to draw the listener into the stories and absorb them. An overwhelming new dawn of possibilities becomes the theme for Sven with his new home, studio and indeed the new life of his baby daughter beginning this chapter.What does ODD stand for? One Dramatic Day? Opening Doors? Is it a phrase in German? Does it mean anything? It will remain undefined. For us, these seven untitled pieces serve as a cinematic milieu, with the monochrome packaging presented as close-up film reels covered in dust.”
The movement from a more Electronic sound to an Ambient meets Modern Classical one has been an inspired one for Laux with releases like “Paper Streets”, “The Writings” (with Daniela Orvin) and now “ODD”. With each release there is a growing confidence and exploration of the Post Classical sound and an experimentation with Ambience. The seven track “ODD” is no exception seeing Laux move through various soundscapes such as furious strings on “ODD I” and “ODD VII”, while mixing this sounds with dreamy techno influences on “ODD V”. With “ODD II” there is an underground aquatic ambience meets submerged watery piano tones and a pure Modern Classical infused with Ambience and subtle electronics on “ODD III”. With “ODD VI” Laux combines all these styles into one particular piece without it feeling like it is a mish-mash of styles. With the press releases alluding to the speed of life and the times when things are calm, he has demonstrated this in the album by varying the pieces in both musical styles and in intensity. What the album highlights is the way the Laux utilises his current modes of expressing himself without ignoring his musical heritage. By doing this it allows Laux the flexibility and musical know how to consistently create engaging pieces resulting in one of the most direct releases on the label.
“ODD” is available on CDR and Digital.
“‘Taiga’ is the sixth release by Swedish duo Old Amica and their second wordless album. It began as music to accompany moving images in a short film they scored, but ended up as a collection of small fragments of childhood memories. The music for the short movie later got nominated as Best Music Score at The Annual Copenhagen Film Festival. Taiga is the endless highways, it’s the pulsating colours that blanket the starry sky, the disconnection, the icicle prisms, the midnight sun, the polar nights, and the background hiss. It was inspired by the words of Karin Boye, the voice of Carl Sagan, and the sounds of Popol Vuh.
The short film, which is called Place. Poetry. Periphery was the starting point with the first pieces of music having been written some 650km apart. Filmmaker Jonas Börjesson from Halmstad followed the process of six poets and their interpretations on the theme of place, poetry and periphery and he enlisted Old Amica’s Johan from Stockholm and Linus from Umeå to create the music. After having finished the score, these musicians continued recording and adding sounds together in a basement in Stockholm.”
Ambient / Drone music can at times feel cold and emotionless and sometimes this is a good thing, but ever so once and a while you want to hear music that has elements of hope carried alone in it. With “Taiga” Old Amica have managed to create this balance where both sorts of feelings are covered. With an album that is part soundtrack, part collection of memories there is bound to moments where the nostalgic / melancholy feeling takes over, but with opening track “Till Juni” the emotions are able to co-exist. As the album progresses the duo continue to impress with their compositions that feel minimal in nature, but have a bigger impact than you would think. The second piece “Sävast” shows the breadth of their compositions , while a piece like “Lagan” moves into narrow band width territory with drones, loops and an abundance of static. “Rymdens Klot” feels like a distant tape loop that is disintegrating before our ears. It also shows how well that they make the music feel distant but not lacking in depth. The music on this piece doesn’t have to be so in your face or present and it also doesn’t lack for anything because of it’s distance.
Scandinavian musicians seem to have a real handle on a organic form of ambience that seems to have their heritage all over it and “Taiga” is no exception to this. The album is an intriguing artefact especially for those who don’t inhabit this world. “Taiga” is available on Cd-R and Digital.
“In the spring months of 2014 we recorded our first instrumental album that later would get the title Drone and Hum. We spent four days in a living-room in Stockholm, with instruments lying scattered around the piano. Whenever someone had an idea we would just press record and try to capture it without polishing it too much. We didn’t really purposefully set out to record an album without lyrics, but it sort of just happened. There is something heart braking in revisiting childhood spaces and realise that by large it was tome fraught with a magical shimmer. “Drone and Hum” was released digitally on September 5th, 2014. It has now been five years, but we’re very excited that a limited lathe cut physical edition will be released by Oscarson …we asked some friends and people we admire if they wanted to reinterpret some of the songs from “Drone and Hum”. The result is the album “Drone and Hum Reworked” and we are so incredibly grateful for the beautiful contributions and new perspectives.”
While not on the Whitelabrec label it would be remiss of me not to include their recent remix collection which came out in late December on an ultra limited lathe cut edition of twenty-six copies. The original five year old album sees it being reworked by a variety of artists including Whitelaberec’s boss Harry Towel (Spheruleus), Jakob Lindhagen, Glåsbird and others. Interestingly one is by Rymdens Klot which has got me wondering if this is the duo themselves? Not being familiar with the original album myself I have to take it at face value and assess the tracks themselves. Most of the reworks remain within the Ambient/Drone/ Modern Classical framework with the exception of the Dream Pop of Therese Lithner and the techno/house of Parasite Child. Lithner’s rework is a bit of a standout for me as it is not what I traditionally listen to, so it is a breath of fresh air.
“Drone and Hum Reworked” is available on limited Lathe Cut Lp and Digital.
The Spring Quintet is a collaborative project between renowned musician and Montreal, Canada activist Stefan Christoff and Italian sound artist Matteo Uggeri, as well as musicians Claire Abraham (Cello), Fern O’Dactyl (Violin), Peter Burton (Double Bass) and Will Eizlini (Tabla).
‘Raven, Raven, Raven’ is a long form piece which originates from a live performance at Casa Del Popolo in Montreal, between Christoff and the aforementioned musicians. The ensemble performance was for a benefit show at the Native Friendship Centre and at a later date this was subsequently passed to Milan-based artist Matteo Uggeri, who had previously collaborated with Stefan through their mutual contact Vasco Viviani, owner of Old Bicycle Records. Matteo was tasked with the opportunity to deconstruct, rearrange and rebuild this raw recording as well as to adorn it with additional layers of sounds. Matteo’s own take on the original work took up a new approach to something that was originally live and flowing and once each artist had their own space in which to bring their own separate ideas, they then spent a slow period of regular communication via email during which the project gathered the momentum to eventually achieve the final results which have been beautifully mastered by Ian Hawgood.
The album is designed to be played as a gap less piece imitating a live performance. The opening field recording inspired “Part 1” nicely flows into “Part 2” where the piece starts to build and then mutate over the next four pieces. The only comparison I can come up with in some of these pieces is the improv jazz of The Necks mixed in with middle eastern, electroacoustic and experimental soundscapes. While all the pieces flow into each other the majority of the movements are contained in “Raven, Raven, Raven (Part 2)” to “Raven, Raven, Raven (Part 4)” with the two pieces that bookend the album being more about experimenting with sounds and textures within field recordings and ambient frameworks. It stands out somewhat in the Whitelabrec catalogue when compared against the other releases included within this review and shows the label interested in pushing the envelope of their identity.
“Raven, Raven, Raven” is available on CDR and Digital.
“Emanuele is a sound artist from Baia a little coastal town in the Phlegraean Fields in Southern Italy. He has released albums with labels such as Karakoe Kalk, Somnia and Apeginine as well as collaborating with artists such as the Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist and compatriots Enrico Coniglio and Elisa Marzorati. Live performances have seen Emanuele share a stage with artists including Deaf Center, Biosphere, Vladislav Delay, Tim Hecker, Xela, Marsen Jules and Ulrich Schnauss.
‘This World’ is a deep and intimate exploration of what our planet and its inhabitants have become today which Emanuele is honest enough to admit, he doesn’t particularly like much of what he sees. Each of these 10 tracks is a reflection of what the world once was not so many years ago and what it is now. The path meanders both memories and present considerations, beginning with sparse, minimal notes to initiate contemplation, before more expansive, lush arrangements take hold as the album progresses. Emanuele narrates a deeply personal account throughout This World, but these tales are both vague and provocative enough for the listener to contemplate the journey for themselves. “
Errante ever so subtly draws you in on this album. After opening up with two understated pieces of sound art mixed with field recordings, electronics, acoustic guitar and piano, he flips the switch with “Anema” a piece which follows within a similar terrain to the openers, but with a more wide scale approach and openness noted with the drones, ambience, piano and Max Fuschetto’s Oboe. Never truly inhabiting one sound or style, the piece is an intriguing one that offers a certain amount of mystery to it’s nature. The music from this point changes from piece to piece, but the feeling of intrigue manages to find it’s way through them all. It’s almost as if there is a distance between the composer and the source of what is influencing his pieces. It’s like he is reacting to situations that he is not part of which gives a feeling of separation between Errante, his music and the themes. It could possibly be the soundscapes themselves rather than the instruments of choice and the way that he constructs them. It would be a bit like someone reporting on an event that has no prior knowledge of the participants or what has happened, but has created their version which reveals a quality that no one else had noticed before. The music has all the hall marks of traditional styles, but inhabits a world of it’s own.
“This World” is available on CDR and Digital.
“Gray Acres are brothers Michael and Andrew Tasselmyer, whose debut album was released last year on Sound In Silence. The project began in 2017 as another creative avenue for these two artists, who are already established as Hotel Neon as well as working on other collaborations and solo ventures. Andrew records under his own name as well as working with Tobias Hellkvist as Mordançage whereas Mike records under the alias Transient Sounds. Material Forces became the name of the follow-up to last year’s eponymous unveiling, a dense but physical drift session which is as tactile as it is lulling. They did not initially have a clear vision on what this record would eventually become and much of it was performed live, with limited post-production. A key element is some field recordings taken in Asia, which provided the influence for the concept as they were all selected specifically for their powerful, intense characteristics. Rushing water, thunder claps, rock, earth and other heavy materials helped inspire the title ‘Material Forces’ as these field recordings become a focal point in which the power of the natural world collide with softer, processed guitar and synth drones to mimic the undeniable beauty that is left behind by nature as it shifts and evolves.”
As the Tasselmyer brothers make up two thirds of Hotel Neon it is hard not to make a direct comparison to the work of that trio. Indeed it sounds closer to Hotel Neon than Andrew Tasselmyer’s solo work (I am not that familiar with Michael’s), but it shares the dronal qualities exhibited on Andrew’s “Surface Textures” (Eilean Rec) album. Like their fellow Americans Sontag Shogun travelling seems to be a focus of both their lives and their work as they utilise the field recordings from their travels as sources of inspiration and sound design in their pieces. Sometimes these field recordings have been removed from their natural state and changes their essence. Initially with “Scars Will Fade” you are thinking you will heady into darker territory with its drone and granular textures, but as the album progresses you see that while the brothers are more entwined with darker atmospherics, the music is not one dimensional or lacking in contrasts. The music is the soundtrack to isolation, with gentle waves of dark drones rolling over each other as demonstrated on “Touchstones” and will appeal to the growing crowd of Hotel Neon appreciators.
The CDR has sold out, but the digital is available.
“For our next release, we are pleased to present Luis Miehlich, an artist based in Heidelberg, South Germany. Luis has contributed compilation pieces to labels such as Eilean and Dronarivm as well as an EP on Kage Recordings and most prominently, his debut album Silences on Archives. Whilst he is relatively young when compared with many of his Ambient peers, Luis has been performing music since the age of five thanks to a musical household and over recent years has drawn influence from composers Jean-Michel Jarre, Steve Reich and Béla Bartók as well as Ambient labels such as Hibernate, Home Normal and Archives.
In ‘Timecuts’ we have the follow-up record to ‘Silences’ which builds upon some unused/rediscovered material from between 2013 and 2015. These were heavily processed and then expanded upon with additional compositions and instrument sounds. The reworking of past material became a concept of sorts, as matching the old with the new became an important part of the process. Luis decided to extend a wider invitation to adapt these works to other artists, with a brief to reinterpret rather than simply remix. Erder and SineRider were logical participants, after both having featured in the ‘Silences’ album. Then our own Glåsbird as well as Gallery Six joined to complete the line-up.”
Luis Mielich’s music feels like it is constructed out of small blocks of sonic sounds and then reconfigured to make into pieces. There is a melodic touch to the pieces that is integral to them as is the textural components. Percussive in nature as experienced on “Timecuts II” they remind of older experimental electronica, but with a home spun natural charm. The early free form nature of “Timecuts I and II” make way for more expressive ambient led pieces such as “Hatsuyume” and “Timecuts II”, while “Timecuts IV” combines these two styles. The experimental nature of Mielich’s music is then brought back to more traditional ambient styles with the final trio of remixes which contain moments of the granular cut and paste sort of aesthetic with a more refined feel. That is not to say that these styles are not in Mielich’s pieces, it’s just that your attention is focused more on the way that the blocks of sound are used with his compositions and how they affect the tracks.
“Timecuts”is available on CDR and Digital and is suited to those who seek out abstract and experimental touches in their ambience.